On November 1st, my colleagues and I loaded into my family’s van and began the adventure of a 21 day road trip, visiting 15 cities, and speaking at 24 events. My colleague Wes made a short video, something he would try to do most mornings of the trip. I think we were all a mixture of excitement and trepidation. A lot of unknowns lay in front of us.
Our first event was that cold Saturday night at Sudbury First Baptist. I think only 4 or 5 people had rsvp’d and so we were a little unsure how the night would go. To our surprise, 25+ people showed up. Baptist, United, Lutheran, Mennonite and maybe a few others that I can’t remember. It seems our emails to churches in the area had actually borne some good fruit. An older woman disclosed that as a lesbian she felt hurt and alienated by the church. An aunt expressed concern for her niece’s friend who’d come out and was now couch surfing at various friends’ places due to a poor reaction by her parents. And the goal of encouraging unity in our diversity, prioritizing our public witness over polarizing debate, was demonstrated in small group conversations where people listened and shared and discovered common ground.
Driving through what seemed like the middle of nowhere (a theme to be repeated several times through this trip), we couldn’t help but be in awe of God’s creation. Lake Superior was in majestic display, white-cap waves boldly slapping the rocks. We arrived at a small A-frame Christian Reformed Church, with no idea how many to expect. Glad for the 25+ people who came, though unsure what people were thinking as we shared. Then in the small group conversations we heard a buzz in the room. People had a lot to say after all. A mom shared her anguish of living in the tension of loving her recently engaged gay daughter and her scriptural convictions that this marriage was wrong. The daughter lived in Toronto and despite continuing to claim faith in Christ was not connected with any faith community. Might New Direction’s Gathering group be a place for her and her fiancé to reconnect with other believers?
Winnipeg took us out to Providence College. When we arrived, we encountered some very grateful faculty members who had been waiting a long time for this kind of conversation on campus. Apparently Tuesday chapels are normally a handful of people, but we counted more than 70 in attendance. After sharing a bit about generous spaciousness, my three colleagues shared parts of their journeys: Wes, as a gay Christian who had grown up in conservative Pentecostal churches in Texas, who’d tried to avoid dealing with his sexuality by burying his life in ministry, who finally after burning out found a safe place at his day-job at a board game store to begin to ask the questions he needed to be able to live honestly and authentically and integrate his faith with the reality of his sexuality. Danice, who lost her job as a Youth Pastor at a Baptist Church after coming out and announcing her engagement to Beth, who now has the opportunity to connect and mentor queer youth, and has the vision of creating a nation-wide network of mentors and allies for LGBTQ+ youth across the country. Beth, a daughter of a Baptist pastor who had to find her identity in Christ rather than pleasing people when she, after three years of rigorous theological study and reflection, came to the place of coming out and preparing to marry Danice. Beth shared about her friends who have come to a different conclusions, gay Christians committed to celibacy, and acknowledged that she could be wrong and relied on the mercy of God to cover her married life with Danice.
That evening we met with a group of about 35 people hosted by a Mennonite congregation. A poignant moment came when a partnered queer person shared that their previous church had invited them to come and share the story of their family. My initial thought was, “What a gift that could be to that church”, but their next words stopped me short. They explained that they declined the invitation due to the discernment that for their family’s self-care, they chose to not be used as the token queer narrative for that church. And I found myself wondering if I had asked too much of my colleagues, Wes, Danice, and Beth, to share of their personal lives so vulnerably in so many different venues in such an intense time frame. I found myself praying even harder that God’s grace would be more than sufficient for them in the days ahead – while making it clear that they could opt out of sharing at any event they chose.
The next city on the tour was Beth’s hometown, Saskatoon. A friend of mine, now pastor at a large Free Methodist Church, hosted us for an evening Generous Spaciousness Conversation and a Leaders Connection event the next morning. It was really lovely to see so many people from Beth’s childhood church embrace her and express their support. One gentleman told me that he used to be quite homophobic, but that his respect for Beth, her commitment to Christ and her wisdom beyond her years, had compelled him to search his own heart.
Another long drive took us to Edmonton, entering the city in pouring rain. Four events were scheduled at the King’s University including a panel discussion with students and a workshop for a CRC conference. Students at King’s asked intelligent questions while Beth and Danice met with a group of leaders of campus ministries at the University of Alberta.
In Lacombe a friend’s parents hosted us for dinner at their bison farm. Despite poor road conditions, 30+ people showed up from CRC, Seventh Day Adventist, Alliance and United Church and other congregations. We had our first people walk out during the event, finding out later that the two gentlemen both had gay brothers and were from a very conservative background. Family members shared with one another during the small group conversations and lingered long after the presentation ended.
After baby cuddles and puppy kisses at Beth’s sister’s place, we slowly made our way across icy highways to Calgary. Our friend Sean had invited us to come share at Q, a small community of people seeking life in Christ and sharing the 12 steps together. Conversations about dealing with grief and anger and loss and trust and faith were real and life-giving. Our largest group to that point in the trip showed up for the Generous Spaciousness Conversation with great energy during the dialogue time. The next morning our Leaders Connection event drew over 20 leaders.
The drive from Calgary felt like a Christmas postcard with several inches of snow dusting the evergreen trees and mountain tops. We stayed in Kamloops and had a small group join us at the local CRC the next morning. A senior pastor of a large church spent the morning considering how to extend a deeper hospitality to LGBTQ+ people in his community. Another pastor acknowledged the need to learn new language and postures so that he could express love to sexual minority people. And a non-Christian community leader showed up to join the conversation because of her concern that queer youth have such high suicide and homelessness rates.
The drive on the Coquihalla highway through the Rockies was perfect. A speed limit of 120 km/hour, clear skies and roads, and beautiful scenery. Our time in Vancouver was full, along with a Leaders Connection and more than 100 people at the Generous Spaciousness conversation, I had the opportunity to speak at Trinity Western University. TWU is seeking to launch a new law school and has faced opposition due to the Community Covenant that students sign which precludes same-sex relationships. The auditorium was filled to capacity and we hope to make the video of the talk available.
A ferry over to Victoria brought us to sunny and temperate conditions. What a relief after the coldness of Alberta. Hosted for dinner by the CRC pastor and his 2 year old son, we were blessed with the gift of homemade soup made from squash grown in community gardens. While the group that night was small, we were again so encouraged to see people from different denominations participate together in dialogue.
The next morning another ferry took us to the city of Seattle. Despite short notice confirming our venue, we were grateful for the 40+ people, including many LGBTQ+ people (with friends from GCN), who joined us at the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. Stopping at some excellent coffee shops and thrift stores, hilly Seattle gave way to the forlorn roads to Spokane.
Prior to joining the New Direction team, Wes lived in Spokane. After a Generous Spaciousness Conversation at a Presbyterian church, the team shared dessert with Wes’ mom who still lives there. Driving through Idaho to come back up into Canada, we were praying for a smooth border crossing to allow Wes, an American citizen, to come back into the country. We crossed with no questions or delay.
Back in Canada, and quite honestly feeling very ready to be home, we did another two evening events in Lethbridge and then Regina. Here we heard from an elderly Mennonite couple who had made efforts to reconnect with a family with a gay child to ask for forgiveness for alienating attitudes years earlier.
This road trip gave us the opportunity to connect with nearly 1000 people. People from many different denominations were encouraged to listen to the experiences of others with a humble heart, a commitment to be hospitable to one another, to consider how to experience mutuality despite our diversity, and to work together to pursue justice where all people have the opportunity to flourish. Many in the audiences seemed to resonate with the priorities of generous spaciousness and demonstrated a willingness to engage in open conversation. Perhaps this is indicative that those on the more extreme ends of this conversation opted out of participating. The demographics ranged from young to old, urban to rural, and often was a wonderful mix of sexual majority and LGBTQ+ persons.
We are encouraged by the experience of this trip. The vision of repairing our public witness by investing in unity was demonstrated as people across 15 cities took the opportunity to join together in respectful conversation at the intersection of faith and sexuality. The vision of humbly honouring one another’s consciences as we all seek to be faithful to God and the Scriptures and commit to radical hospitality for all is shared by so many. The hope that fracture and division can be prevented through a focus on the spiritually formational value of humility, hospitality, mutuality and justice in the midst of our diversity is a seed that was consistently sown throughout this trip. Communities risking to open the dialogue and welcome diverse voices reflects the ethic of Jesus. Jesus Christ has secured a way for all people to be reconciled to God – this good news of the gospel will prevail through the differences and disagreements Christians have about interpretive matters.
Thank you to those who followed our trip on social media, offering prayers, encouragement, and support. Thank you to friends and family that billeted us, cooked meals for us, and helped us experience home away from home. Thank you to those who opened their church facilities for our use. Thank you to those who came to our Generous Spaciousness events and participated with energy and hope. Thank you to the clergy who engaged in Leaders Connections with the desire to pastor and serve well. And thank you to all those who have committed to continue to support and cultivate generously spacious communities.